Changing Neighborhood Watch Methods to Avoid Racial Profiling

Changing Neighborhood Watch Methods to Avoid Racial Profiling

Change at the community level.

In light of the recent controversy concerning the George Zimmerman case which involved the shooting of Treyvon Martin and the issues of racial profiling; it would seem prudent that neighborhood watch organizations change their methods to avoid these situations. This report is a blueprint for change focused on communities with neighborhood watch programs. The plan utilizes the organizational change kaleidoscope as the underlying methodology for making policy changes and successfully transitioning these programs to more objective and unbiased practices.

Racial profiling is a longstanding problem that African Americans have endured since the early days of the United States, limiting African American, and other groups, opportunities in society. Perhaps the worst issue surrounding racial profiling is the unevenness it causes in the application of justice, leading to racial overrepresentation, disparity, and discrimination within the Justice System.

In order to fully understand how racial profiling impacts African Americans it is necessary to understand the disparities between blacks and whites in the justice system. This problem is easily seen through statistics. For example, in 1997, minorities comprised one-third of the juvenile population nationwide yet accounted for nearly two-thirds of juveniles arrested and incarcerated. The disparity affected the black population most severely.

African American juveniles ages 10 to 17 comprised 15% of the juvenile population but accounted for 26% of juvenile arrests. Approximately one-third of juvenile cases involved African American youth, yet 40% of the juveniles incarcerated were black (Bilchik, 1999). The numbers represent a gross injustice that crosses all sections of the juvenile justice system.

Sociologically speaking, overrepresentation occurs when a significant proportion of a particular group is present more often at different stages within the justice system. These areas include arrest, intake, detention, adjudication, and disposition. Overrepresentation is a larger than expected population of a particular group in relation to the general population (Bilchik, 1999). For instance, if whites and black were equal in population one would expect crime to be committed in near equal proportions of population. One would not expect that whites would commit 90% of the crimes if all circumstances were equal.

Disparity is the probability of receiving a particular outcome but with this outcome differing for different groups; for example, being incarcerated in a facility vs. not being incarcerated in accordance with a particular race. If blacks are incarcerated more than whites, for similar crimes, then this shows that there is racial disparity (Bilchik, 1999). This disparity leads to an overrepresentation of African Americans in the justice system.

Discrimination, the third factor, occurs when the justice system treats one group of differently from another group of based on gender, racial, or ethnic status. The presence of overrepresentation or disparity does not necessarily mean that discrimination is involved (Bilchik, 1999). Other factors related to the nature of crime committed could provide an alternative explanation for disparity and overrepresentation. For instance, social environments could play a part in disparity in that minority youth who live in higher crime areas are simply more prone to incarceration than white youth in suburban areas. In this line of reasoning the counterargument that minority youth commit proportionately more crime than white youth and are involved in more serious criminal activities is often posed as reason for youth being overrepresented in facilities. The data does not support a nondiscriminatory conclusion.

In evidence of this line of thought, discrimination seems to take place on an institutional level within the justice system. The decision makers, starting from the incarceration point to the adjudication process, create outcomes that show racial disparity. This is evident when one views the statistics in which minority youth face higher probabilities of being arrested by the police, stiffer sentencing, longer short-term and long-term detention (Bilchik, 1999). As a result of these facts, one must conclude that discrimination is a huge factor in disparity and overrepresentation of minorities in the justice system.

While the research is somewhat inconsistent the bulk of the data available for most jurisdictions across the country show that minority (especially black) youth are overrepresented within the juvenile justice system. This overrepresentation is especially true in regards to long-term confinement. Statistically speaking, minority youth are more likely to be sentenced to long-term confinement in secured facilities, while white youth are more likely to be housed in private facilities or diverted from the juvenile justice system. The data indicates that differences between the offending rates of white and minority youth cannot explain the minority overrepresentation in arrest, conviction, and incarceration. In a literature review by Pope and Feyerherm (1993) approximately two-thirds of the studies examined indicated that racial and ethnic status influenced the justice process for juveniles, especially in terms of arrest. Since that review, more research has been performed across different states which support their findings. The results of several studies indicated the following results:

· White males are 9% less likely to have ever been arrested than black males. · White males were 13% less likely to have been arrested than Hispanic males. · A larger proportion of black males were arrested more than once, 7% of black males and 6% of Hispanic males, while white males were only arrested more than once in 4% of cases. · White youth were least likely to be detained of all racial groups (Bilchik, 1999).

Pope and Feyerherm also found that when racial disparity occurred because of racial profiling, this effect typically occurred across the whole system. Furthermore, studies showed that disparity caused by racial profiling was present in the greatest degree in the beginning stages of the justice system process. The greatest disparity occurred primarily in decision points such as in the decision to arrest or to imprison (Pope, & Feyerherm, 1993). Essentially, minority youth groups were far more likely to be arrested, found guilty, and receive harsher punishments.

As a result of disparity and discrimination black youth were overrepresented in the juvenile justice system with their proportions being far out of line with the overall numbers. When one looks at the case numbers the disparity becomes obvious. Black youth comprised 30% of all delinquency cases processed in 1996. However, in cases that involved detention, black youth comprised 45% of these cases. The overrepresentation was largest in drug offenses, in which blacks accounted for 33% of all drug cases. Blacks were involved in 59% of drug cases requiring detention. The staggering statistics that accompany black juvenile offenders cannot be overstated. In all offense categories combined, juvenile offenders of other races comprised less than 5% of all cases requiring detention.

The arguments that African Americans commit crimes more often do not make sense when viewed statistically. This is true because whites make up most of the population and simply speaking it is not possible for 14% of the population to be committing most of the crime, especially in predominantly white areas. Furthermore, one can see how racial profiling impacts the evenhandedness of justice with situations outside the African American community. For example, Muslims and people of Arab ethnicity have become victims to racial profiling due to terrorism fears. In 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen was detained on the suspicion of terrorism for no reason other than racial profiling:

Arar spent the next two weeks in U.S. custody. He was repeatedly questioned for hours at a time with no access to legal counsel, then finally deported. Due to false information furnished by Canadian authorities, Arar was deported not to his home country of Canada but to his birth country of Syria. There he was held in solitary confinement for almost a year, in a dark three-by-six-foot cell, and regularly tortured (Nelson, 2013).

Arar is a strong example of how racial profiling impacts the application of justice and raises the question as to how can justice be equal when whites are less likely to be detained and arrested? It cannot. The problem of disparity and overrepresentation is a situation that has occurred due to the widespread practice of racial profiling. As African Americans proceed through the justice system, it is clear that disparities are most severe at the point of arrest. African Americans are detained, searched, and arrested at a rate twice their share of the general population. While discrimination is present at every stage of the justice system the problem is initiated from the point of arrest. The overwhelming concern with disproportionate justice is that it highlights an alarming problem of how society treats minorities. The decision to profile people on the basis of race has created an unequal system of justice. This unequal justice undermines the ability of African Americans and other minorities from achieving and participating equally within society. When looked at from this angle it is apparent that racial profiling is the catalyst for disparity and overrepresentation in the justice system. Logically, if African Americans were not being racially profiled then arrests would be lower as well as incarcerations. The problem is not merely an issue of justice it is also an issue of oppression because African Americans are given criminal records more often than whites and this limits job opportunities as well as financial strength. While discrimination and prejudice may exist at every stage of the justice process it begins with racial profiling and escalates from this point. The severity of the problem warrants further studying of the issue in order to find the solutions that provide equal application of the justice system and allows African Americans equal opportunities.


Bilchik, S. U.S. Department of Justice , Office of Justice Programs Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (1999). Minorities in the juvenile justice system (179007). Washington, DC : OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse. Retrieved from

Pope, C, & Feyerherm, W. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention . (1993). Minorities and the juvenile justice system: research summary. Washington, DC : OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse.

“Preface to ‘What Are the Consequences of Racial Profiling?’.” Racial Profiling. Ed. David Erik Nelson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.

Sentencing Project. (2000). reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system a manual for practitioners and policymaker. Retrieved from arity.pdf

Staples, B. (1998, February). Just walk on by: A black man ponders his power to alter public space. Literary Cavalcade, 50(5), 38.

Photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Mon, Jan 25, 2021. Changing Neighborhood Watch Methods to Avoid Racial Profiling Retrieved from

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